Every now and again a game comes along to remind us that we are human, that as an AI they can be superior to us. The key word there is ‘can’, and not ‘always’. This is exactly what The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human manages to achieve, making you feel inferior to its brutally challenging boss battles over and over again. But patience and virtue will pay off, and by overcoming the brilliant design bosses you be able to progress on a shallow but stunning adventure through this pixelated abyss.
The game opens with a short cutscene that sees a spaceship-flying submarine enter a wormhole to another galaxy, only to return several thousand years later. Upon their return, the ship is plummeted through the ice and into the ocean. It doesn’t take long to realise that the ocean is actually, in fact, all that is left of earth. Due to global warming humanity took refuge in underwater facilities, broken up into districts. This is really all the game tells you, the rest of the story can be pieced together through finding different logs scattered throughout the underwater caverns.
Although these snippets of information provide some insight into what happens while you were away, they are also made up of some pretty useless information, making me question why some of them were there at all? Don’t get me wrong, upon finishing the game I had enough of an understanding of what took place below the waves and a slight insight into some personal melodramas, but wonder if I didn’t spend so much time exploring, would I have missed key element to the hidden narrative?
Which leads me to the exploration in The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human. First of the game is a strict Metroidvania, meaning exploration is a must. In classic Metroidvania fashion, the map is split up into rectangle sections, most of which require additional abilities to venture into, but more on those abilities later. The stresses of finding your way around are slightly eased with hidden ship upgrade, and these upgrade can genuinely make a huge difference in the gruelling boss fights. Although exploration is a huge part of this classically inspired genre, I did feel it was clunky in The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human. There almost felt to be too much of an emphasis on backtracking, and although the pixelated underwater environment looks absolutely stunning, there’s only so many times I want to see an underwater McDonalds.
One element that does benefit from exploration is the discovery of the ferocious underwater creatures that offer some of the best bosses fights I’ve played in a long time. Make no mistake, these encounters are serious challenging, some even taking close to an hour to overcome. But what stands out about these tense battles is that they don’t feel cheap, each boss has its own flaws that you need to find and exploit if you want to come out on top. The last time I personally experience bosses like this was in Bloodborne, where every death feels like one step closer to victory. I love this approach developers YCJY took in delivering both thoughtful and challenging encounters. Although this challenge could put a lot of people off, I urge you to stay resilient and patience as the underwater encounter only get better towards the end.
Not only do these submarine hungry creatures grow in creativity as to descend the depths of the ocean, but they also grow in difficulty. This difficulty spike is often more down to you as the player rather than the game, as with The Aquatic Adventures of the Last Human being a Metroidvania, a lot of the bosses can be encounter in almost any order. Upon defeating a boss you’ll acquire a pretty handy upgrade for your ship. Unlike the crates you’ll find through the environment, these don’t improve existing part of your sub, instead, they add to them. They include abilities such as a shield, a dash and torpedos, all of which not only open up the ability to explore new areas of the map but also provide a key edge in the boss encounters.
The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human is no doubt one of the most challenging games I’ve played through in a long time. The underwater pixelated environments are stunning and full of wonderfully animated marine animals that will often make you stop and star in awe. But no matter how pretty the game is, the emphasis on continuous backtracking can get pretty boring. However, it’s not the vibrant and immersive environments that I’ll remember the game for. This I owe to the brilliantly designed boss encounter that took me through almost every emotion available and made my time under the waves a worthwhile adventure.